The SEC Network officially has a launch date — Aug. 21, 2014.
The announcement, which was made at the Southeastern Conference’s football media days Thursday, highlighted an address by ESPN’s Justin Connolly, the head of the SEC Network, in which he reinforced the desire to get the channel in as many homes as possible.
To do that, of course, ESPN must reach agreements with the nation’s biggest cable providers — which has historically proven to be difficult. When the Big Ten Network launched in 2007, it didn’t get into most Midwest homes until 2008 because of squabbles regarding subscriber fees. The Pac-12 Network, which launched last year, is experiencing a similar battle with DirecTV, which still does not carry that network.
So far, the SEC Network has only come to an agreement with AT&T U-verse, which it announced when ESPN and the SEC announced their joint venture in May.
“Negotiations in the pay television business continue to be deliberate and methodical exercises,” Connolly said. “We are now engaged in active and productive distribution conversations with most cable, satellite and (telecommunications) distributors across the country.”
Connolly said his distribution team recently completed a deal with the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, a collection of several small telecommunications companies.
“While this deal will add tens of thousands — not millions — of SEC Network subscribers, we appreciate and value distribution partners in all shapes and sizes,” Connolly said. “More importantly, this is the second deal for the network and yet another positive sign of support and traction in the marketplace. We still have 13 months ahead of our launch.”
Connolly also discussed some of the strides the network has made in creating content.
“Live events will be the hallmark of the network,” Connolly said. “College triple-headers each Saturday will anchor the season from week-to-week. We will elevate those games with an on-campus presence and a two-hour on-site studio show from a different SEC location each weekend. Taking the network on the road throughout the fall will help enhance the connectivity with fans across the conference.”
Beyond football, Connolly said the network will air “a robust lineup” of women’s soccer and volleyball, and added that in addition to the 450 live events we will do on television, they expect to surpass our original target of 550 annual digital events in the early years of the network, a process that will be aided by their soon-to-be-completed first wave of technical site visits across each of the 14 SEC schools.
“This exercise is critical in developing a playbook to produce as many live events as possible,” Connolly said.